Five Under the Radar Keeper Starting Pitchers in 2014
Starting pitching is such a valuable commodity in the baseball world. GMs are always trying to put together a formula that will translate into high velocity, movement and horse-like durability. Investing in these arms, whether it is at the fantasy level or professional level is difficult because so many pitchers eventually breakdown. I am still of the mindset that bigger is better when facing a 162 game schedule plus postseason work. Here some big guys that might provide fantasy muscle in 2013 and beyond.
San Diego’s frontline guy is physically imposing and just starting to get comfortable. The 6’6” 220 pound righty was a model of inconsistency up to last year. Then, Cashner started to find his groove. In his last six starts he went at least 7 innings, gave up only 4 earned runs and piled up 7 k’s in all but one. Cashner has the advantage of making half of his starts at the pitcher friendly Petco Park. His real growth is yet to come, with the development of secondary pitches keeping hitters off balance and unprepared to hit his explosive mid to high 90’s heater. In the next few years if he can avoid the injury bug, I can see a higher work load with a K/9 rising from the disappointing 6.6. Cashner overall is a solid investment as a keeper.
It took awhile for Kluber to make an impact on a big league rotation, but it finally happened in 2013 with his 11-5 mark. Kluber has an opportunity to climb in terms of production and establish himself as permanent piece of the rotation. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Kluber was not the only pitcher on the Indians' staff to make strides. As I wrote in regard to Ubaldo, Terry Francona and Mickey Callaway are making a positive difference with their hurlers. However, Kluber does have to slay some demons, namely an inflated road ERA of nearly 5 and a propensity to walk lefties. Kluber has a good fastball, but relied heavily on a sinker last year. The result was more groundballs, but an unusually high BABIP of .329. I would bet on him making additional adjustments and lowering the ERA down from 3.75 and being a good low risk opportunity.
Talk about a big kid that loves to pound the fastball, Cingrani did it at a rate of over 80% of the time. In watching him pitch, two things stood out: First, he is deceptive in hiding the ball. The hitters will tell you how hard a pitch is to “pick up” and it was apparent that they were not adjusting well. Second, although his fastball average 91-92, he can go get a little extra juice when he needs it. In a late spring start against Washington, he punched out Adam LaRouche with 96 mph gas on the outside corner. I also like Cingrani’s body of work to this point. Look at his 6 starts at AAA in 2012; he had a mind blowing 14k per 9. In fact, his K/9 has been above 10 at every level including last year. Of course, there will be adjustments that need to be made as the league gets a better look at the young lefty, but there is a lot to like here.
Out of the Cingrani mold, big strong hard throwing left hander. Paxton made an impressive debut last year going 3-0 including a 4-1 victory over the Cardinals and rookie sensation Michael Wacha. It was only a couple of years ago that Paxton was thought of as a high end prospect before struggling to finish pitches due to a nagging knee injury. That could be an explanation as to why he outperformed his minor league totals last year. If Paxton has put his health concerns in the past and can find the zone consistently, he can put his mid 90’s fastball and plus curve to good use. Seattle is an excellent pitchers park that will reward southpaws who can take advantage of lefty on lefty matchups. Paxton will be a cheap gamble and could pay off handsomely.
If you are looking for a boom/bust candidate, Morrow is it. On one side, there are the numerous physical breakdowns year after year. On the other is a dizzying array of electric pitches that have at times created havoc on American League hitters. Some of the continuous teasing from Morrow can be blamed on the difficult transition from reliever to starter. The good news is that Morrow has not yet hit the age of 30 and his velocity is still intact. Included in his arsenal is a ridiculous high 80’s slide piece that disappears and was used to carve up the Rays in a 2012 outing for 17K. He is not that far removed from that outing and if healthy his career trends show a pitcher that is lowering his BB/9 with solid K numbers. He'll be cheap on draft day and a decent keeper with big upside.